Book Review: Dogside Story by Patricia Grace

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: New Zealand

Author: Patricia Grace
Title: Dogside Story
Publication Info: University of Hawaii Press (2002), Paperback, 304 pages
ISBN: 0824825845


Set just before the turn of the millennium in 2000, Dogside Story takes place in a rural Maori community historically born of a family feud.  The novel deals with family, using communication to resolve community problems, and the erosion of traditions as the younger people adopt the ways of the white people or move away to the cities.  Storytelling is important to the community and many wonderful stories are woven into the narrative. I struggled with this book due to dialogue which is rich in accents and lingo as well as the large cast of characters who I found difficult to sort out.  That of course is reader error and should not reflect poorly on this lyrical, insightful, and humorous novel.  Here’s a link to a much better review.

Rating: ***


Book Review: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

Author: Caleb Carr
Title: The Alienist
Publication Info: Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books, p2002, c1994.
ISBN: 1402589026


In 1896 in New York City a serial killer is murdering and mutilating the bodies of boy prostitutes.  Police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt attempting to reform a corrupt police department indifferent to these crimes calls in two friends to help solve the murders: psychologist (aka “alienist” in contemporary parlance) Laszlo Kreizler and underachieving crime reporter John Schuyler Moore who also narrates the book.  Joining the team is the first woman to work for the NYPD and twin detectives.  Together they put together a psychological profile of the killer and use other modern methods to track him down.  The denouement of the book is hokey but everything leading up to it is entertaining and historically-detailed so it is worth reading.

Recommended books: The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, Time and Again by Jack Finney, and The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
Rating: *** 1/2

Book Review: The Old Iron Road by David Howard Bain

Author: David Howard Bain
Title: The Old Iron Road
Publication Info: Viking Adult (2004), Edition: 1St Edition
ISBN: 0670033081


After completing an historical work on the railroad’s role in Western expansion – Empire Express – Bain piled his family into a car to follow a westward route roughly tracing the pioneer trails, transcontinental railroad, and  the Lincoln Highway.  Along the way they visit museums, historic sites, abandoned railway grades and surviving relics, ghost towns, and most importantly encounter a number of fascinating historians (both professional and amateur).  This is not a typical travel book though as it is steeped in historical detail as each site visited prompts an historic tale of pioneering times.  I enjoyed this potpourri of Old West history which is written in loving detail.

Rating: *** 1/2

Book Review: I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Author: Robert Graves
Title: I, Claudius
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, [2008], p1994. [First published in 1934]


Graves’ novel is a fictional memoir of Claudius as he tells the story of his unlikely rise from a lame, stuttering and overlooked relation of the imperial family to become the third of the Caesars to rise to emperor.  Claudius tells of the greed, lust, backstabbing, intrigue, and occasional valor within the imperial court in a gossipy tone (which the audiobook narrator makes sound positively catty).  I, Claudius is steeped in history and humanity.  I enjoyed listening to this novel although I don’t think I will continue to read in the series.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The mom & pop store by Robert Spector

Author: Robert Spector
Title: The mom & pop store : how the unsung heroes of the American economy are surviving and thriving
Publication Info: New York : Walker Pub. Co., c2009.
ISBN: 9780802716057


This Library Thing Early Reviewers free advance review book is a tribute to independent business.  Through historical discussion – including the business of the author’s own family – and through case studies of independent shops around the country the author tells the story of the success and importance of “mom & pop stores.”  Spector’s writing is an unabashed booster but despite his unbiased approach it remains convincing.  Spector also isn’t the best writer, but many of the stories of the individuals, families, and groups who go into business on their own are inspiring.

Recommended books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann
Rating: ***

Christmas Revels: The Reviews Are In

As reported earlier, I’m participating as a member of the Roaring Gap Chorus in this year’s Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA.  The show has been great thus far and tickets are still available for the final six performances.  Come out and see us and don’t just take my word for it, read these lovely reviews from:


At last, a 935th Post

Sure, blogiversaries are so uncool, but blogging itself is uncool these days too.  So let me uncooly celebrate the third anniversary of Panorama of the Mountains with a look back on the past year.

Three big projects of which I’m proud of are my Top 100 Favorite Books of All-Time, Top 100 Favorite Albums of All-Time, and my week long tribute to Sesame Street‘s 40th Anniversary, not to mention my ever growing Beer List.  Even reading a book turned into a big project, with that book of course being James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Here are ten more posts I’m proud to have authored.  The number in parentheses is the number of views for each.  Not a lot of people have looked at these posts, so give them some love:

Here’s to another good year – or an even better year – of blogging.


Book Review: The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian

Author: Patrick O’Brian
Title: The Ionian Mission
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks (2005) [Originally published, 1981]
ISBN: 0786179333


This book is a bit of a return to form after the domestic and on-shore dramas of the previous two books in the series.  Aubrey and Maturin head east to Turkey to fight (or not) the French and make alliances with local Turkish leaders.  Lucky Jack is reunited with HMS Suprise although he takes a big blow to his reputation, Stephen does some spying, and there are some rollicking adventures and sea battles.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Live from New York by Tom Shales

Author: Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
Title: Live from New York : an uncensored history of Saturday night live
Publication Info: Boston : Little, Brown, c2002.
ISBN: 0316781460


25 + plus seasons of the groundbreaking comedy-variety show are revisited through the words of the cast, hosts, writers, and production crew.  This oral history approach has its downside as the authors provide little context to go with the interview quotes.  I was also interested in learning more about the creative process of making the show and its most famous sketches and less interested in the tell-all tales of sex, drugs, and backstabbing.  At least, on the latter note there is just as much mutual admiration among the participants of the show.  Some of the greatest accolades go to performers whose voices are missing from the text due to their early deaths – John Belush, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman.  It would have been nice if the authors could have culled some passages from old interviews so that these great performers’ voices could be heard as well.  It was interesting how in their own words that some people came off unpleasantly (Chevy Chase, Nora Dunn, Harry Shearer) and some people were more interesting than I ever imagined (Jane Curtin, Tim Kazurinsky, Victoria Jackson).  Despite its bulk this book is a fun and interesting read, although I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t already a long time fan of the show finding it all too appealing.  I watched the show regularly from about 1982-1994 but found the whole story intriguing and makes me want to go back and watch the old shows.  Even those dreadful 10-minutes to 1 am sketches.

Recommended books: Street Gang : the Complete History of Sesame Street by  Michael Davis
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes
Title: The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table
Publication Info: Cosimo Classics (2005) [Originally published, 1858]
ISBN: 1596053070


I recently completed reading 107 daily installments of this classic work on DailyLit. This book lends itself well to this format as it is a series of essays and often less essay than snippets, vignettes, and quotes as if collected in a commonplace book.  Oliver Wendell Holmes waxes on poetry, manners, philosophy, aging and the art of conversation often with a touch of humor and satire.  It was a fun way to read a Yankee classic.

Favorite Passages:

When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as that of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and luster have been given by the attrition of ages. Bring me the finest simile from the whole range of imaginative writing, and I will show you a single word which conveys a more profound, a more accurate, and a more eloquent analogy.

Why, the truths a man carries about with him are his tools; and do you think a carpenter is bound to use the same plane but once to smooth a knotty board with, or to hang up his hammer after it has driven its first nail? I shall never repeat a conversation, but an idea often. I shall use the same types when I like, but not commonly the same stereotypes. A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of associations.

You know, that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way,–AND THE FOOLS KNOW IT.

Many people can ride on horseback who find it hard to get on and to get off without assistance. One has to dismount from an idea, and get into the saddle again, at every parenthesis.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: India

Author: Arundhati Roy
Title: The God of Small Things
Publication Info: Harper Perennial, 1998
ISBN: 0060977493


This challenging novel tells the story of a multi-generational family in southernmost India whose lives are changed in one day by a tragic incident. While the main story is set in 1969, Roy moves back and forth throughout the time focusing mainly on the young twins Estha and Rahel and the adults they become as a result of the novel.  Roy touches on post-colonialism, conflicts between Christianity and native beliefs, communism versus the status quo,  and the caste system.  While the story is heartbreaking and sometimes brutal, Roy has a way with words and composes some very beautiful sentences.

Recommended books: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Atonement by Ian McEwan
Rating: ****